Decrying the “war on drugs” as a complete failure, the president of Guatemala has suggested decriminalization of narcotics as a way to reduce drug-related violence that has scarred his country and much of Central America.
President Otto Perez-Molina spelled out a raft of proposals to stem the tide of drug trafficking over the weekend at a regional security summit in Antigua, Guatemala, including the formation of a regional court to prosecute drug dealers.
“The proposal is decriminalization,” Perez-Molina said. “We are talking about creating a legal framework to regulate the production, transit and consumption of drugs.”
The leaders of Mexico and Colombia (two major drug-producing nations) have also called for a new approach to coping with the violent and hugely lucrative narcotics trade.
“Our countries are not producers or consumers of drugs,” Perez-Molina complained.
“We are in the middle of the sandwich… We have seen that the strategy that has been pursued in the fight against drug trafficking over the last 40 years has failed. We have to look for new alternatives. We must end the myths, the taboos, and tell people you have to discuss it.”
However, Perez-Molina’s stance is likely to face staunch opposition from the United States, which has repeatedly warned Central American states against legalizing drugs.
Guatemala’s murder rate has doubled over the past dozen years, Reuters noted, largely due to the activities of Mexican drug cartels which uses its smaller neighbor as a drug transit point.
Perez-Molina has himself had a change of heart with regards to the illegal drug trade. In fact, the arch-conservative swept into office last November with a platform calling for a stern crackdown on drugs in the country. Now, he appears to have compromised his stance and seeks an open debate on drug policy.
“It’s important this is on the discussion table as an alternative to what we’ve been doing… without getting the desired results,” he said at the summit.
Perez-Molina also pointed out the hypocrisy of the United States’ attitude, when Americans are the biggest consumers of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, flowing from Central and South America. As such, he wants Washington to pay for the drug raids conducted in the region.
“We’re talking about economic compensation for every seizure undertaken and also the destruction of marijuana and cocaine plantations,” Perez-Molina, a former army general, said.
Regarding the creation of a regional court to try drug traffickers, Perez-Molina explained: “this would give breathing space to the justice system because it would relieve pressure on our courts.”
Interestingly, BBC noted, the presidents of three Latin American countries -- Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras (all of which are heavily affected by the drug trade and its related violence) – did not attend the Antigua summit.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.